Some good news for a change

We found a lot of birds affected by fishing and/or boating activities at Lake Hodges in 2019. We have only found two since March of 2020 and those both appeared to have been the victims of deliberate attacks (possibly a pellet gun in one case) rather than incidental hooking, entanglement, or boat strikes.

This means that we are finally catching up and making a measurable difference in the bird fatality rates at Lake Hodges. That is very good news and gives us encouragement after 2.5 years of hard work.

When we started we would poke the boat into the shore, pull all of the fishing line that we could find, back out, move over 2 to 5 feet, poke the bow back into the shore, pull all of the line that we could see, etc. It took months to make our first complete circuit of the lake at this rate.

Now we have a good group of volunteers, some of them quite regular, and we are pretty well caught up with old fishing line. So we are able to cover almost the entire shoreline each week. That is a really big deal because the sooner you find the line after it was lost, the less chance it has to catch and kill a bird.

I’d like to thank all of the people who have helped us get to this point. Some are out there every week, some have only been able to come once or a few times. All are appreciated – we never know which piece of line that we retrieve might have been the one that killed a bird.

Now the end of the season is approaching. The lake will be closing on October 28th and will reopen in February for the 2021 season. We will not be accepting applications for volunteers until mid-January. We will be scouring the lakeshore through the winter, trying to get every last bit of line and litter that we can find. That will put us in really good shape for opening day of fishing season.

We usually lose some volunteers over the winter. And a lot of line is lost during the first weeks of fishing season. So I will likely post a call for new volunteers in January. If you’ve been thinking of joining us, please contact me at that time and I’ll get you started.

Winter birds at Lake Hodges

San Diego county is an important bird hotspot in the US. Lake Hodges and the surrounding land is a very large natural area in the county and so is very important for birds and is very popular with wintering birds.

The winter residents have begun showing up and in just the last couple of weeks we’ve seen these newly arrived winter birds and others that we failed to ID:

Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Osprey
Winter egrets (most go away during mating season)
Eared grebes
Ruddy Ducks
Lesser Yellowlegs
Solitary sandpipers
Belted Kingfishers
Yellow-rumped Warblers
Common Yellowthroat

On Again, off again … currently on!

A lot has changed in the 4.5 months since we were originally locked out from the lake due to the Corona virus pandemic. We were invited back in late June prior to the re-opening of Lake Hodges so that we could clean up and prepare. Then after a couple of weeks we received a boilerplate email from the city which appeared to cancel all volunteer activities again. Now, after two more weeks of delay we have been welcomed back again.

So our status right now is that we are back to work! “Work” sounds like such an unpleasant word. We do work hard, but it is some very enjoyable work.

And we are once again looking for help. If you’d like to volunteer some of your time to help save the lives of the birds of Lake Hodges, and have fun doing it, we’d like to hear from you.

Corona Virus News

The city has closed all of its lakes and reservoirs and halted all volunteer programs. So we are suspended at Lake Hodges until things settle down. As far as I know, hikers are still allowed on the trails and so individuals could still “bank walk” for line and litter, but we cannot do it as volunteers, nor can I do any recruiting or training at this time. If you are interested in helping us, please be patient and check back when things start to normalize again. We will still need you.

Involvement

I made a posting on Nextdoor.com, yesterday, looking for more people who might want to volunteer at Lake Hodges. Something in how I worded it drew a lot of responses from non-kayakers.

A lot of the fishing line and litter that we pick up is also accessible from the shore. Some of the worst problem areas are those most popular with bank fishermen who walk in. So beach walking is a very good way to help.

I am going to create a section on the website out how you can help on foot. It may take me a day or two (and longer to perfect) so in the mean time, please feel free to contact me for more information.

The season changes this Week…

Lake Hodges – our local lake – opens for fishing this week. We have spent the winter scouring the shoreline and getting the lake as cleaned up as we possibly can. But it’s time to go back to the more urgent work of collecting the newly lost fishing line before birds can get caught in it.

We have a small, but dedicated group of volunteers, but there are miles of shoreline and keeping up with all of the fresh line is a challenge. If anyone is interested in helping, please read the Volunteers Needed and the About pages and then Contact me to get started.

Balloons – they just keep getting worse

Here is a video taken by Carolyn, one of our volunteers. This large bunch of balloons were found along the shoreline of Lake Hodges. Half of them were full of mylar confetti. Why in the world they do that, I don’t know. You can’t see the confetti until the balloon pops. That’s basically deliberate littering. The confetti is very hard to pick up out of the water. And it shimmers and glitters just like little fish, making it very tempting to aquatic birds to try and eat. That would probably be certain death.

Please don’t buy balloons. They kill birds. Yes, they are festive and fun, but how festive do you think it is to die from entanglement in the strings; how fun is it to starve because you ate the balloon or sequins?

Rising to A New Challenge

We’re getting pretty good at clearing the shoreline of line and litter that might hook or entrap birds and wildlife. But an awful lot of the fishing line that is lost in the lake is lost beneath the water level. And it takes its toll, too. Grebes and cormorants are two types of bird that live full time at Lake Hodges. Both types of birds dive under water to catch the fish that they eat. Both types are vulnerable to underwater fishing line. We have found a number of grebes in this situation. One survived it, the rest died. Here are photos of the latest, found by volunteers Mark and Karen. (Below)

So our big challenge now is how to find and remove line that is underwater. It’s hard enough to find up in the brush, but this takes the challenge to a whole new level.

We have been reaching down into the water to feel for it at the base of stumps and dead brush for a few months. Our hands are vulnerable, but are far more sensitive than dragging a rake or hook through the shallows. Now we are experimenting with using Velcro to entangle underwater line. So far the results are “inconclusive.” Meaning that we have only found one or two bits of line with it and we were already pretty sure where they were. If it does work out, we are hoping to figure out a way to “troll” it up and down the lake. We will continue to work on it, but we really could use help and ideas.

Two grebes who drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line.

If anyone reading this has any good ideas about how to find and retrieve underwater fishing line (no swimming or diving is allowed in this lake) then please leave a comment or contact us directly. I’d especially like to hear if any other organization has figured out how to do this.

Here is the sad photo: two grebes entangled in one piece of line. Found on 11-14-2019.

For those who are grossed out by this, just think how we feel; having to disentangle these dead birds from the line when we put so many hundreds of hours into trying to save them from this kind of fate. If this distresses you, do what we do: try to prevent more of it from happening.

Great Egret rescue

Last Sunday Janet spotted something odd way out in the middle of the lake. Upon investigation we found a Great Egret floating in the water, apparently dead. But his head was just a little bit to upright, so she reached over and picked him up. He was alive, but just barely.

We pedaled quickly back to the truck then drove down to Project Wildlife with Janet wrapping him in towels and sweaters and herself, trying to warm him up. By the time we got there his breathing was more normal and he was moving a little bit. Project Wildlife did triage then transferred him to Sea World for rehab. Kim, at Sea World, told me that he appeared to have suffered an impact – and I remember seeing a very fast speedboat go by shortly before we found him. He was probably stunned, shocked, and hypothermic when we found him.

Rehab went better than expected and he was ready to release today. We met Jonathan, the rehabber, at Lake Hodges and he let Janet do the honors. The video tells the rest of the story.

We rescued this Great Egret on 10/27. He was rehabbed at Sea World and ready for release on 10/31. That’s fast!

It is difficult to rescue birds and we have a low success rate. That’s why our main objective is prevention. But it sure feels good to have a success when we can’t prevent the injury.

By the way, we did walk the beach and picked up a bunch of fishing line right there before releasing him. Had to be sure and give him the best possible chance.

Awareness.

Janet and I saw a Peregrine Falcon in a tree while out volunteering on Lake Hodges this morning. And it got me to thinking. We’ve seen another one recently – probably this same bird because there aren’t many of them around here. We’ll probably see it again and again if it hangs around for the winter. We’ll come to know its favorite morning perches (we’re out in the mornings) and we’ll get to the point where we know it at a glance without having to go closer and squint up our old eyes trying to make out its patterning.

I know this will happen because it has already happened with so many other birds (and coyotes) that we see on the lake. Do you know how many different ways a Snowy Egret can catch a meal? We don’t – yet – because we keep seeing new ones. Have you seen coyotes hunt and catch fish from the shore? Or heard the swishing sound of thousands of minnows leaping from the surface of the water?

Awareness of all of these details bring the richness of life into focus. This is one of the nice things about spending a lot of time in the same place. You get to know it more intimately than if you just go there once or twice a year and power yourself along a trail on foot or mountain bike. I urge you to try it. Pick a place you love and spend lots of slow time there with your focus outwards on the life around you.

And while you are there, do what you can to help that wildlife survive the onslaught of civilization. Bring back some litter, pull some fishing line out of the brush or rocks, pull some invasive weeds, etc. It may not seem like a lot, but you’re just one person. Do what you can. It is more than most people do. And it does matter.